exposing the dark side of adoption
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Mom gets life sentence for son's death; Child-abuse slaying forced changes in child protection system.


Author: The Associated Press

BRADENTON - A woman was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for killing her 7-year-old adopted son in a notorious 1995 child abuse case that forced sweeping changes in the state's child protection system.

Heather Ciambrone, 38, was sentenced immediately after a jury found her guilty of first-degree murder, the second time she has been sentenced in the case. In January, a judge allowed her to withdraw a 2001 no-contest plea that resulted in a 55-year prison sentence.

Ciambrone and her husband, Joseph, were accused of torturing, beating and starving their 7-year-old adopted son, Lucas, who weighed less than 30 pounds and was covered with bruises when he died at a hospital in May 1995.

Her defense attorney acknowledged Ciambrone might bear some responsibility, but asked jurors to consider a lesser charge.

Joseph Ciambrone is serving a life prison sentence. After three years in a state hospital, his wife finally was found mentally competent for trial and then opted for the plea deal in 2001.

But last year, a state appeals court kicked the case back down, saying Heather Ciambrone's attorney misinformed her about the length of time she actually would have to spend in prison.

The Ciambrones adopted Lucas after his mother was murdered. Lucas suffered from behavioral problems that often caused him to fly into rages.

A caseworker, a doctor and three other foster parents raised concerns about the couple's treatment of the boy, but they were allowed to adopt him.

Lucas' death prompted a new round of changes of Florida's child protection system after state officials determined he should never have been placed in the Ciambrone home nor should the couple have been allowed to adopt him.

2007 May 17